Stimulating Saturdays: edX course on Food

I recently learned about a great learning tool called edX. They offer some really interesting online courses  from various universities, such as UC Berkley, MIT, and Harvard, for free.

There is currently a course called Food for Thought (CHEM181X), taught by three professors at McGill University (Montreal, Canada)., covering the basic science behind food and popular issues related to food and health. There are several short video lectures per week, complemented by quizzes and surveys. Your level of participation is completely up to you; there are assignments and an active discussion board for the course as well. Perhaps one of the neat things about this and presumably all edX courses is the diversity in “students”. Just scanning the classroom introductions on the discussion board, there are people from Montreal to California to Mexico to Lebanon.

Blueberries!

While I was in Kelowna, BC several weeks ago, I went apricot picking for the very first time in my life! I have to say, it is so much easier picking apricots than strawberries. For one, apricots grow on trees, which means they are more easily accessible from a standing position and the trees provide shade. Strawberries, as delicious as they are, grow very low to the ground in large open fields with little shade. As a side note, in high school, I worked picking strawberries for one damp morning and since then, have a huge appreciation for berry pickers. Oh yes. And apricots are much larger than strawberries…we picked over 20lb of apricots in 10 minutes! To eat tree-ripened apricots…heaven.

Unfortunately, I missed cherry picking (arriving too late in the afternoon to be allowed into the orchards) and couldn’t go blueberry picking while in BC (because BC blueberries are huge and the best of the best). However, I did eat loads of Okanagan cherries during my vacation and decided that I would try blueberry picking in Ottawa once I was back in town.

Blueberries!
Blueberries!

It doesn’t seem like there are many blueberry U-Pick farms around Ottawa but we made a trip out to the one that I did find: Canaan Blueberries. It’s about a 20 minute drive east on the highway from downtown Ottawa, beyond suburban Orleans and into the countryside. The drive is nice and takes you along the Ottawa River, and before you know it, you’ll have arrived at the farm.

I found that blueberry picking in Ottawa was more tedious than picking in Vancouver, mostly because the berries here seem to be smaller. Obviously this depends on the variety, of which Canaan has a few, but it took me about 2 hours to fill a 4 litre basket ($2.75 per lb). Nonetheless, it was a beautiful summer day to be out amongst the blueberry bushes!

Blueberry bushes
Blueberry bushes

Luxury of morning hikes

It is such a luxury to – instead of sitting at a computer in an office cubicle – be able to go for light hikes in the morning through beautiful forest of coniferous trees and rivers. Hearing birds talking. Feeling the dirt trail beneath your feet. Smelling the fruity air, thanks to the ripening berries on the bushes.

Ah the beauty of a vacation in beautiful British Columbia!

You may have heard of the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which is a very popular (paid) tourist attraction in North Vancouver. However, there is a little gem in the Lynn Valley neighbourhood of North Vancouver called the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge. It isn’t as long as the Capilano bridge but it feels less touristy, is still quite impressive and well-maintained, has a good network of trails surrounding it, and is free!

Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
Ready to cross the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge? Watch out - it sways!
Ready to cross the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge? Watch out – it sways!
Beautifully clear water
Beautifully clear water
Such serenity, listening to the water pass by and wind through the trees!
Such serenity, listening to the water pass by and wind through the trees!

Just north of the Capilano Suspension Bridge is Cleveland Dam and the salmon hatchery. The Capilano Pacific Trail is one of the major trails linking all 3 places; you can actually walk all the way from Ambleside Park (by Lions Gate Bridge) in West Vancouver via this trail all the way north to Cleveland Dam near the base of Grouse Mountain.

A view of Capilano Lake, from the dam
A view of Capilano Lake, from the dam
The Capilano Dam
The Capilano Dam

If you walk on the east side of the Capilano River, either down from the Capilano Dam or up from the Capilano Suspension Bridge, you can visit the Salmon Hatchery. I remember going here on school field trips to learn about the lifecycle of fish and it’s still well-maintained years later.

The Hatchery
The Hatchery
Baby fish at the hatchery
Baby fish at the hatchery
Another view of the hatchery and surrounding beauty
Another view of the hatchery and surrounding beauty
Another view of the hatchery
Another view of the hatchery

Sea Vegetables

Today, the bento box is a trendy lunch style. Growing up, my mom would pack me a bento box to take to elementary school, complete with onigiri (Japanese rice balls) and a few side dishes to go with it; sometimes my lunch even included warm miso soup. Sounds amazing, right?

Well, I remember the reactions I got from my classmates when I’d open my bento at lunch. Classmates would hone in on the onigiri, wrapped in nori (sweet-salty Japanese toasted seaweed), and react with disgust and ridicule. I would go home and tell my mom that I just wanted a ham sandwich, just like everyone else.

I’m reminded of this memory as I listen to an episode of the BBC’s Food Programme on seaweed. Many cultures around the world have incorporated sea vegetables into their diets over hundreds of years. Growing up, my experiences told me that I was the odd one out, eating various seaweed products (nori, kombu, hijiki)…but now, I feel like North America and parts of western society are the odd ones out by not eating any seaweed.

Interestingly, seaweed use is becoming trendy, recognized for its vast flavours (including umami), mineral and trace element content, potential for supporting sustainability in energy (for humans and beyond), and – I’m assuming – because it still has that exotic pull. I’m noticing friends who really enjoy eating Korean or Japanese nori as a snack, eating or even rolling their own sushi, adding dulse or kombu to soup. Seaweed can be a condiment, a base, a main dish.

The future is bright for seaweed!

Stimulating Saturdays: Food culture in a food desert

The value of turning land in the middle of a city into a garden is amazing. People who do the gardening and nurture the plants and the land find great joy in the activity, the people passing by and interacting with the garden are affected by their experience with nature, and slowly, food deserts disappear.

Stimulating Saturdays: Big picture on health

A lot of attention is always on health care and, in particular, health care costs. This is particularly true in this time of so-called fiscal restraint. However, health care shouldn’t be limited to diagnostic and reactive care. Preventative health care is crucial.

Stimulating Saturdays: How do we feed the world?

In the previous Stimulating Saturdays post, I shared a video that explains the concept of food security. This week, I’m following up with this video on the ‘global food crisis’, which is a combination of inequitable food and resource distribution, a rising demand for food as the population increases, and building or maintaining sustainable resource systems (food production, environment, lifestyles).

It’s interesting that a picture of corn is used to represent food in quite a few of the animation frames. I recently watched the documentary, King Corn, which follows two relatively young guys who go to middle America to grow corn because they learn that their body is essentially corn. A testament to how much corn products make their way into our foods. A substantial amount of food is grown to be fed to animals, not people, so that countries that crave a large amount of cheap meat can be satisfied. Corn is a common feed element for animals but it is also processed into various corn-derived substances. A lot of the corn that you see driving through the countryside is not meant to be eaten directly by humans but you end up eating a lot more corn than just corn-on-the-cob if you buy pre-packaged or pre-prepared foods.

If you’re interested in these topics, a great book to read is Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System by Raj Patel.

Stimulating Saturdays: What is food security?

Compared to so many people around the world, I am lucky that I do not have to legitimately worry about where I will get food to feed myself and my family today or tomorrow. As I read more and more about the global food system, alternative food systems, and resource distribution, I’m learning that there is definitely enough food being produced around the world to feed everyone. This is illustrated by dividing the amount of current worldwide food production by the number of people around the world. However, food insecurity (or food security) is a huge issue in every single country, no matter how rich the country is overall. Reminds me of the saying, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link”.

Here is a great short and simple video explaining what food security is:

Stimulating Saturdays: Fighting hunger with policy

How do you feed the world’s population while protecting ecosystems, cultures, people’s livelihoods and dignity? How do you democratize food, making fresh, delicious, wholesome foods available to all? How do you address hunger and inequalities? Food policy deals with all of these questions and more. This short video describes how food policy can fight hunger and was produced by the Interational Food Policy Research Institute.

If you’re interested in learning more about the policy direction for food in Ottawa, the organization Just Food, which champions a just and sustainable food system in Ottawa, features the discussion and learning forum, Food for All. The City of Ottawa also publishes the Nutritious Food Basket Survey on an annual basis and commented on the price of eating well in Ottawa in 2011.